By Kevin Zeese
When we researched the realities of Fukushima in preparation for this article, words like apocalyptic, cataclysmic, and earth-threatening came to mind. But, when we say such things, people react as if we were the little red hen screaming “the sky is falling” and the reports are ignored.
Either way, it is clear that the problems at Fukushima demand that the world’s best nuclear engineers and other experts advise and assist in the efforts to solve them. For example, Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds.org, and an international team of scientists, created a 15-point plan to address the crises at Fukushima.
There are three major problems at Fukushima: (1) Three reactor cores are missing; (2) Radiated water has been leaking from the plant in mass quantities for 2.5 years; and (3) 11,000 spent nuclear fuel rods, perhaps the most dangerous things ever created by humans, are stored at the plant and need to be removed—1,533 of those are in a dangerous position.
(1) Missing Reactor Cores
Since the accident at Fukushima on March 11, 2011, three reactor cores have gone missing—there was an unprecedented three reactor meltdown. These melted cores, called corium lavas, are thought to have passed through the basements of reactor buildings one, two, and three, and to be somewhere in the ground underneath.
A further concern is that a large reserve of groundwater, which is coming in contact with the corium lavas is migrating towards the ocean at the rate of four meters per month. This could release greater amounts of radiation than were released in the early days of the disaster.
(2) Radioactive Water Leaking into the Pacific
One month after Fukushima, the FDA announced it was going to stop testing fish in the Pacific Ocean for radiation. But independent research is showing that every bluefin tuna tested in the waters off California has been contaminated with radiation that originated in Fukushima. Daniel Madigan, the marine ecologist who led the Stanford University study from May 2012 was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying, “The tuna packaged it up (the radiation) and brought it across the world’s largest ocean. We were definitely surprised to see it at all and even more surprised to see it in every one we measured.” Marine biologist Nicholas Fisher of Stony Brook University in New York, another member of the study group, said: “We found that absolutely every one of them had comparable concentrations of cesium 134 and cesium 137.”
(3) Spent Fuel Rods
There is no question that the 1,533 spent fuel rods need to be removed. But Arnie Gundersen, a veteran nuclear engineer and director of Fairewinds Energy Education who used to build fuel assemblies, told Reuters, “They are going to have difficulty in removing a significant number of the rods.” He described the problem in a radio interview: “If you think of a nuclear fuel rack as a pack of cigarettes, if you pull a cigarette straight up it will come out—but these racks have been distorted. Now when they go to pull the cigarette straight out, it’s going to likely break and release radioactive cesium and other gases, xenon, and krypton, into the air.
The problems at Fukushima are in large part about facing reality—seeing the challenges, risks, and potential harms from the incident. It is about TEPCO and Japan facing the reality that they are not equipped to handle the challenges of Fukushima and need the world to join the effort.
Gregory Jaczko, who chaired the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the time of the Fukushima incident says, “I’ve never seen a movie that’s set 200 years in the future and the planet is being powered by fission reactors—that’s nobody’s vision of the future. This is not a future technology.” He sees U.S. nuclear reactors as aging, many in operation beyond their original lifespan. The economics of nuclear energy are increasingly difficult as it is a very expensive source of energy. Further, there is no money or desire to finance new nuclear plants. “The industry is going away,” he said bluntly.